Mayor’s Office Seemingly Disbands Mass/Cass Task Force, Calls for “Revamp”: Grass-Roots Community Working Group to Re-Form This Month

The City has announced that next month it will be revamping the nearly two-year-old Mass/Cass 2.0 plan for the South End/Newmarket area, as well as the public-private Task Force that was intended to guide the plan – but many now serving on the Task Force said they believe it has simply been disbanded already.

A monthly Task Force meeting that was to be this week was cancelled, and members said the July meeting was also postponed – meaning they haven’t had any meaningful dialog on the Mass/Cass situation most of the summer as it has grown bigger and bigger as an issue in the South End and Newmarket areas.

The Mayor’s Office said they are re-evaluating the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan right now to examine what needs to be adjusted and what new strategies and initiatives might be added to the plan. They said Acting Mayor Kim Janey has also asked those working on 2.0 to explore paths to accelerate re-opening Long Island.

They did not say the Task Force had been disbanded.

“I appreciate the work of the Task Force over the past two years,” said Janey. “We are now revamping the Task Force to do even more. I applaud Gov. Baker for making a new $19 million investment in support services where people need them, Lawrence, Quincy, Brockton, Holyoke, Worcester, Lowell and Springfield. Boston can’t do this alone. We need more investments to support people in recovery where they are in Boston and across the Commonwealth.”

After suddenly cancelling the Task Force meeting this week, the Mayor’s Office said in a statement that they planned to roll out a revised 2.0 plan at the September Task Force meeting.

“The City continues to work collaboratively to ensure our full preparation for improving the Mass and Cass 2.0 Plan, based on the Mayor’s proposed action plan on how to move forward,” said a spokesperson. “The City looks forward to our continued work with the Task Force to best address the needs of individuals suffering from substance use disorder, as well as promote public safety in the area. The City will propose these plans at the September meeting.”

Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) appointee Mike Nelson has said for several months that the Task Force is no longer relevant, and communication is non-existent. Like other members, he received a survey from the City this month that used verbiage pointing towards the end of the current Task Force.

“Communication from the Task Force leadership has been non-existent since the start of summer,” he said. “Virtually all meetings have been canceled just days before they are scheduled. The quotes from City councilors and other public officials in the (media) showed more passion and interest in the urgency of the situation than had been shown by any city councilor in the two years we met monthly.”

Steve Fox, South End Forum moderator and a key member of the Task Force, said he had little hope for the Task Force now, and doesn’t see it continuing. He said he plans to revive the South End Forum Working Group on Addiction, Homelessness and Recovery. That grass-roots group of neighbors, institutional officials and City officials met for five years publicly in the South End monthly, and was the pre-cursor to the Task Force – which seemingly took the Working Group’s place two years ago and does not meeting publicly.

“We have been looking to re-establish the community based Roxbury, Newmarket, and South End Working Group,” he said. “We have seen the importance of bringing that same group of people together…Our intention is to really focus on actual initiatives that have seemingly been put on the back-burner at the Task Force or completely set aside in terms of ideas generated…I’ve received an incredible amount of support for us to re-establish the Working Group, which was the forerunner of the Task Force and did so much great work in the five years we met.”

Fox said the current Task Force as of late has not been effective.

“Recently, the Task Force resembles more of a bait and switch show rather than an effort to identify problems and potential fixes,” he said.

Member David Stone, president of the Blackstone/Franklin Squares Neighborhood Association (BFSNA), said he and others have gotten very little information about the Task Force – if it still exists, and what it’s function would be. He said the City’s proposal last month with Victory Programs to use the Roundhouse as shelter space without telling the Task Force was disturbing.

“The apparent decision by the City to facilitate an expansion of the population via the Victory Programs’ proposal was disturbing in that it appears to have represented a return to the former practice of doing things behind closed doors,” he said.

“I would hope the Task Force moves forward in the form where it’s at its best and the Task Force is an advisory board with community representation and the City is there to implement some of the ideas,” he said. “I don’t know now if any of us on the Task Force have been given any indication of what will happen.”

He said a great example of the Task Force and City coming together to solve a Mass/Cass issue was last year when they were able to establish an on-call contractor and phone system neighbors can call when they have, or find, someone defecating on their private property. That system was put in place last year and was a hit right off the bat in the South End.

“At its most successful point, it was an advisory board that put forth ideas from the community, and discussed them and the City implemented them,” he said.

The City said it has been incredibly challenging this summer trying to maintain a delicate balance of having compassion for those seeking help and neighbors concerned about public safety and quality of life in the neighborhood. They said the City has a team that meets daily to address these concerns and challenges, and the Task Force plays a critical role in addressing those concerns and challenges with the City.

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